Back in 1922, Robert Casey, a Fort Madison inventor, was at home in his second story office and lab busily experimenting on behalf of the W.A. Sheaffer Pen Company. The new invention was Skrip Writing Fluid.
Fort Madison legend has it that Casey was quite a character and an eccentric inventor. He conducted his experiments in a small bedroom in his home that had been turned into a lab. The walls were still covered with ink samples in the late 1970s! A friend of mine here in Fort Madison now lives in the Casey home, and I hold him personally responsible for painting over those ink blots resulting in one more little piece of forever lost Sheaffer history. Just think! He could have turned this into a pen collector's destination-The Casey Skrip Room, or he could have hung the room number RC-35 on the door! On a less pen fanatical note, I do understand that most people will not make a pilgrimage to the Casey home to see ink stained walls and I will allow that my friend's guest bedroom, the former Casey lab, looks pretty nice, even minus the ink stains.
Most of us quickly recognize the familiar Sheaffer Skrip bottle which for over five decades bore a yellow and blue label. Interspersed through the years, but never long lasting, were bright red labels and even the Skrip V-Mail red, white and black label. Sheaffer got a little creative in the late 1980s and in an apparent attempt to make our old favorite yellow and blue labeled Skrip more up to date, started putting Skrip into a burgundy box-the label was also burgundy and the lid was now gold; quite elegant! Throughout these package changes, the bottle stayed the same with the famous Skrip-Well on the inside for easy filling of your fountain pen.
In the early 1990s, Sheaffer shut down Plant No. 2 in Fort Madison, which held the ink manufacturing facility and sold off the old fifty gallon ceramic ink crocks, complete with huge porcelain spigots for draining off ink. After Plant No. 2 closed down, it remained somewhat of a mystery as to where Sheaffer was making Skrip. Most people seem to think the ink manufacturing was moved to the main Sheaffer factory, but as the last few years have passed, Sheaffer employees tell you that they don't know where the ink was being made. Now, the Sheaffer factory is pretty big, but not so enormous that you'd miss ink making equipment! Just this past year, a former Sheaffer employee visiting our shop picked up a bottle of the burgundy boxed Skrip and said "Oh, this must be the German Skrip!" Eager to learn about German Skrip, which was totally new to me, I pelted her with questions. My only reasonable conclusion after evaluating answers was that this was most likely something she had heard or perhaps thought she heard. No one else I've spoken with has the foggiest idea what I'm talking about when I ask about German Skrip.
In July of this year, Sheaffer announced that Skrip was being re-formulated and would be available in new colors and packaged in (gasp!) a newly designed bottle. Sheaffer also took this opportunity to inform us that Skrip was now being manufactured in Slovenia! A mild panic set in amongst pen collecting Skrip fanatics - could it be true, would Sheaffer dare take away their beloved Skrip-Well? And just where is Slovenia? This time, it was no rumor, new Skrip now arrives in a cone shaped bottle which is vaguely reminiscent of ink bottles from the late 1800s. Favorite colors such as peacock blue went the way of the Skrip-Well. The label clearly states that Skrip is now made in Slovenia.
The truth of the matter is, I like the new Skrip bottle! It features a smaller black plastic screw on lid that is far easier to remove from the bottle than the flatter round lid ever was. Fewer ink spills result. No, there is not a traditional Skrip-Well, but there is an internal angle in the bottom of the bottle which makes it easy to fill our larger nibbed modern pens. Let's face it, as much as we loved that old Skrip-Well, it just wasn't deep enough to properly fill many large pens. I also like the fact that the wide base of the bottle makes it difficult to tip over. I'm a little disappointed that the color of the ink is not actually printed on the label, but is instead "colored" in on the label on top of the cap. I can foresee that cap label becoming worn after repeated openings and closings, making it tough to know right off what color of ink is in the bottle. Currently, the new Skrip ink is not packed in an individual box; this makes it a little cumbersome for dealers trying to warehouse and display the ink, but shouldn't pose a problem for pen people with a bottle or two of Skrip to use. Also of note is the fact that the old 2 ounce capacity bottle has been replaced by with a bottle holding slightly less ink-1.69 ounces. The suggested retail price of $4.50 remains the same. The new Sheaffer Skrip cartridges are quite different than the old ones, although they still serve their functional purpose. Gone are the transparent cartridges where you could easily see how much ink was left. In their place are just very slightly translucent cartridges that appear opaque at first glance. The new cartridges are the same color as the ink inside them.
As for cartridge design, no longer can you could pop a Skrip cartridge in your pen from either identical end; now only one end can be pierced. The opposite end is indented. I have yet to figure out any logical purpose for this. Sheaffer claims this indented end is to improve transportability, but it seems to me that this design change has only decreased the ink capacity of the cartridge. Sheaffer just recently announced that they are making some design adjustments to the new cartridges and they will once again be transparent so that we can see how much ink is left in the cartridge. The old transparent plastic cartridges also seem to be far more durable than the new style, as I have had several of the new cartridges develop stress cracks from being squeezed to initiate ink flow in a pen. Hopefully Sheaffer will resolve this problem quickly.
Prior to the recent changeover to Slovenian Skrip, the available colors were: Jet Black, Blue, Blue Black, Green, Red, Brown, Lavender, Gray, Kings Gold, Burgundy and Peacock Blue. Sheaffer discontinued Lavender, Gray and Burgundy entirely. They replaced, or perhaps better said, renamed Kings Gold to Gold and Peacock Blue to Turquoise. Both of these colors have changed; the new turquoise is still definitely turquoise, but darker than the old Peacock Blue. The new Gold is not gold at all, but a brilliant canary yellow color.
New colors now available are Pink, Purple and Orange. I will assume that these are in the top ten favorite colors of the world and may appeal to a younger audience. Many pen collectors also love using a rainbow of different inks, so I'm sure initial sales will be brisk. The Pink is a bright pink, Orange is quite appropriate for Halloween and the Purple is a rich pure purple. In fact I like this new purple far better than the rather pale lavendar of the previous color series.
In the old standby inks, where the color name was not changed, actual color differences are minor. Black, Blue and Blue Black may be just a tad darker, but the color difference is minimal. Both the new Brown and Red are darker. The red is a truer red with less pink than previously and the Brown is a nice choclate-y brown. The new Green ink qualifies as a holiday green color and is less washed out than the previous version.
Sheaffer, in a recently released FAQ, states that the inks were formulated to be as close to the original colors as possible. The new ink formulation offers an ink with less bleed through and less feathering. New Skrip still contains special ingredients to prevent mold and bacteria growth.
In this day and age of decreased fountain pen use, we should all be pleased that Sheaffer didn't decide to stop making Skrip entirely. It really isn't such a far fetched possibility; I would guess that sales of fountain pen inks have declined sharply in recent years. It's hard for us pen fanatics to understand; after all is there really anything more worthwhile to write with than a fountain pen? Robert Casey might be a little disappointed that his Skrip formula has been altered over the years, yet I'd like to think, that as an inventor, he would be pleased that Sheaffer is trying to keep Skrip in the marketplace. We can only hope that Casey is not suffering from too many nightmares!
ęCopyright Sam Fiorella
This article was originally published in Pen Tracks Volume 6, Issue 9, September 2002. Pen Tracks is published by The Southeast Pen Collectors' Club.